James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:06 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. I would like to begin by announcing some important developments in our war against the Chinese virus.
We’ll be invoking the Defense Production Act, just in case we need it. In other words, I think you all know what it is, and it can do a lot of good things if we need it. And we will — we will have it all completed, signing it in just a little while. Right after I’m finished with this conference, I’ll be signing it. It’s prepared to go. So we will be invoking the Defense Production Act.
Last week, I signed an emergency declaration under the Stafford Act, which, as you know, we invoked previously and which activated FEMA’s National Response Coordination Center. FEMA now is fully engaged at the highest levels.
Today, FEMA is activated in every region. We are at level one — level one being the highest level — which we will work with, and we’ve been working with FEMA. I’ve done a lot of work with FEMA. They’re incredible. It’s always been on hurricanes or tornadoes.
They’re, right now, in Tennessee — a large group working in Tennessee. Have been incredible. That was a tragic event. Alabama, last year, also a tornado. And then, obviously the numerous hurricanes in different locations that were, in some cases, very devastating. And, in every case, FEMA came through.
This is a very different kind of work for FEMA, but they will come through as they always do. We have tremendous people, tremendous talent in FEMA.
We’re sending, upon request, the two hospital ships; they’re being prepared right now. They’re massive ships. They’re the big white ships with the red cross on the sides. One is called the Mercy and the other is called the Comfort. And they are in tip-top shape. They soon will be. They’re getting ready to come up to New York. I spoke with Governor Cuomo about it. He’s excited about it.
And I also — we haven’t made the final determination as to where it’s going to go on the West Coast. The Comfort is located now in San Diego, and it’s going to be — we’ll be picking the destination fairly shortly. So those two ships are being prepared to go, and they can be launched over the next week or so, depending on need.
Earlier this week, the first clinical trial of the vaccine candidate for the virus began in Washington State, as you probably know. The genetic sequence of the virus was first published in January. But thanks to the unprecedented partnership between the FDA, NIH, and the private sector, we’ve reached human trials for the vaccine just eight weeks later. That’s a record by many, many months. It used to take years to do this, and now we did it just in a very short while.
That’s the fastest development in history of what we’re doing with regard to the vaccine. We’re making very, very big progress.
Today I can announce further steps to expand testing capacity. We’re working with several groups to determine if the self-swab — a much easier process than the current process that’s not very nice to do, I can tell you, because I did it. But we have a current process that’s a little bit difficult.
If you haven’t done — the groups are working on determining if a self-swab by an individual is as effective as the other. The other is very effective, very accurate. But we’re going to see if we can do a self-swab, which is — would be a lot more popular, I can tell you that. So — and that would be administered also by a health official, but it would be a lot easier to do.
The — the fact is that the health professionals would — it would free — it would free up a lot. Let me just say, the self-swab is what it is: It’s a self-swab; you do it yourself. The other has to be issued by a health professional, and it’s something that is quite difficult. And we think it’s working out for the self-swab. And if it would test positive, the people would go and they would do what they have to do. But we think that’s probably working out.
I’ve asked the FDA to cut through the red tape and reduce regulatory barriers. We are looking at some very exciting things. And I’m going to be holding a second news conference either today. We’re going to talk about the FDA. Some things are happening that are quite exciting. And we’re going to be doing that either later today or tomorrow — fairly early tomorrow. So we’ll see what happens.
But the FDA, at my instruction, is — have been working very, very hard on a number of developments, and we’ll be discussing them with you later today or tomorrow.
And this afternoon, I’ll be meeting with nurses on the frontlines of the battle against the virus. They are truly American heroes. They want to get it done. They’re incredible people. So we’re going to be meeting with nurses, and I actually look forward to that. They’re very brave. They’re taking a lot of risk. And they — they have done an incredible job and they never complain.
Today, I’m also announcing that the Department of Housing and Urban Development is providing immediate relief to renters and homeowners by suspending all foreclosures and evictions until the end of April. So we’re working very closely with Dr. Ben Carson and everybody from HUD.
Every generation of Americans has been called to make shared sacrifices for the good of the nation. In World War Two, young people in their teenage years volunteered to fight. They wanted to fight so badly because they love our country. Workers refused to go home and slept on factory floors to keep assembly lines running.
And, you know, the numbers of ships that they built during World War Two, to this day has never — nothing like that has ever been equal. They were doing ships on a — literally on a daily basis. Nobody has ever seen anything like it. To this day, nobody has seen anything like what they were able to do during World War Two.
And now it’s our time. We must sacrifice together because we are all in this together and we’ll come through together. It’s the invisible enemy. That’s always the toughest enemy: the invisible enemy. But we’re going to defeat the invisible enemy. I think we’re going to do it even faster than we thought. And it will be a complete victory. It’ll be a total victory.
So we’ll have a second conference, again, having to do with the FDA and this. I think it’s going to be potentially a very exciting news conference. And we will do it as quickly as we can, so whether it’s today or tomorrow.
And I’ll, with that, ask Mike Pence to say a few words. And thank you very much.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Mr. President. The White House Coronavirus Task Force met this morning, and now that we have cases in all 50 states, we’re continuing to move out on the President’s call to bring the full resources of the federal government, the full partnership with every state and territory, the full power of the American economy, to support businesses and families.
As the President says to us and every day: We’ll do whatever it takes. We’re all in this together.
Yesterday, the President met with the tourism industry executives and also had an engaging discussion with all the top companies in our industrial and medical supply chain.
And the President, as you all are aware, also announced today that by mutual consent, the northern border to Canada will be closed to non-essential travel. This does not include essential travel or the transit of goods. But it was through a mutual discussion that took place this morning between the President and Prime Minister Trudeau. And the Department of Homeland Security will be effectuating that decision.
The President spoke with some of the nation’s top business leaders today, again, to speak about the supply chain in the country. And, for our part, we’re going to be conducting a conference call later today with state and local health officials to renew our ongoing commitment of cooperation and collaboration.
As the President said last week in signing the Stafford Act, he stood up the National Response Coordination Center. And today at the President’s direction, FEMA has gone to level one. FEMA’s mission is to support disasters that are locally executed, state managed, and federally supported.
And tomorrow, the President will be hosting all the nation’s governors, from a video conference at FEMA, to ensure that they have full connection to all of the activated regions for FEMA going forward.
With regard to testing, I’m pleased to report that we’re increasing the number of tests being performed by the thousands, every day, thanks to the public-private partnership that President Trump forged with commercial laboratories around the country.
Our health experts tell us to remind every American: It’s important to remember people without symptoms should not get tested. We want to make sure that the supply of testing is there for those that need it most or are symptomatic or in the vulnerable population.
Dr. Deborah Birx, in a moment, will address the progress that we’re making on testing, the infection rate, our recommendations to every American, as well as some important new findings about the impact on youth that we’re gaining from data that’s coming in from Europe that’ll be important to every — every American.
On the subject of supplies, the President has our task force extremely focused. As the President mentioned yester- — mentioned that he’s invoking the Defense Production Act today. Secretary Esper, in a few moments, will describe the ongoing efforts that the Department of Defense is taking to make medical resources available. Secretary Robert Wilkie will announce decisions the VA has made to expand hospital capacity within their system.
Also, with regard to medical personnel, at the President’s direction, HHS is issuing a regulation today that will allow all doctors and medical professionals to practice across state lines to meet the needs of hospitals that may arise in adjoining areas.
In addition to that, we are again today asking every American and our medical community leaders and hospitals to partner with us in delaying elective procedures across the country in our healthcare system to ensure that medical supplies and medical capacity go where they’re needed most. Seema Verma will describe guidance that CMS will be issuing on that front.